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Wednesday 22 May 2019
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Tobago’s youngest pan arranger

Joshua Jerry is arranger for Speyside’s small band Steel Sensation.
Joshua Jerry is arranger for Speyside’s small band Steel Sensation.

JOSHUA JERRY is a gifted, disciplined and ambitious young man.

At just 21, he is the youngest arranger in this year's Tobago Panorama, an accomplishment he does not take for granted.

"It is an honour to have gone up against some of the legends in the category," said Jerry, who began arranging at 17. "It was something I do not ever take lightly, because people will always come with their A-game. So I will always have to bring mine as well. That is the only way an arranger will ever reach the finals."

Although the band, Speyside Steel Sensation, did not advance to next week's final in the small conventional steelband Panorama competition, Jerry said has no intention of letting up.

The focused and determined Jerry also has other things on his agenda.

"As far as arranging is concerned, I don't have a plan. I would just follow God's steps," he told Newsday. "I am currently doing a biology degree at the University of the West Indies and I would like to do a degree in music after."

Players from Speyside Steel Sensation

If you attended last Saturday's competition at Victoria Square North, Port of Spain, chances are you saw Jerry. The arranger, who led Steel Sensation through its performance of Denyse Plummer's Gie Dem Tempo, left pan lovers mesmerised by his skill and exuberance.

Jerry admitted he was disappointed Steel Sensation did not make it to the final.

"But with all of the challenges faced to get the band to Panorama, I am thankful to God that we made it as far as the semi-finals."

Jerry said he was delighted two of Tobago's other young arrangers, Kersh Ramsey and Ojay Richards, also in their 20s, have qualified with their bands, T&TEC New East Side Dimension (Belle Garden) and Uptown Fascinators (Scarborough), respectively.

"I am glad a few arrangers are getting the opportunity to arrange for bands in Tobago to show our potential. Kersh and Ojay are really good," he said.

Jerry said it was Rawle Titus, a former dance/drama teacher and arranger at his alma mater, Speyside High School, who inspired him to take up arranging.

"A lot of players in the school's steelband were finishing, so he decided to create a band called Steel Sensation where past players would be able to come back and play pan."

In arranging his tunes, Jerry said he always puts God first.

"While some arrangers 'go with the vibes,' I make sure and let God be my inspiration and he really guides me."

Jerry said uniqueness is the hallmark of his presentations.

"I never like my music to sound like other people's music. But I will also vibes off of the people, especially the youngsters, because they will want something fun."

But even as he strives for a unique sound, Jerry said he never strays too far from the original version of the song.

"That is a main thing for me. I don't like to stray."

He said while some arrangers may modify the original version of a tune, people listening to the song may find themselves lost.

"I do not like people to be lost, but involved in the song."

Saying he chose Gie Dem Tempo because of its vibes, Jerry said the players also did not object.

"They said they wanted a song with vibes."

Jerry became Steel Sensation's full-time arranger four years ago, after Titus gave up the position. He said he has enjoyed some success in the field despite his youth: in his first attempt at arranging for Steel Sensation, the band reached the semi-finals of the small band category. Last year, when he arranged for Speyside High School, it won Tobago's junior competition.

Sponsorship is one of the biggest challenges confronting Steel Sensation.

"We are looking for sponsorship so that we would be able to get our own panyard, because we currently use outside of the schoolyard to practise."

Jerry said he has never been confronted with indiscipline among his players.

"I don't think I have a discipline problem, because at Speyside High, I was the head boy, so the people had a certain amount of respect for me.

"I could chat with them on a normal level – but when coming to pan, they would show me that respect, because they wouldn't watch me on the same level like them. They would watch me like a teacher. So they do give me that level of respect."

Asked his biggest achievement in artform thus far, Jerry said: "Being one of the youngest arrangers in the country, because I know there are people younger than me now."

He is also proud to have helped Speyside High School win the Tobago juniors competition.

Jerry named Duvone Stewart (BP Renegades) and Yohan Popplewell (Curepe Scherzando) among the arrangers he emulates. He also admires the work of late arrangers Clive Bradley and Ken "Professor" Philmore.

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